Thursday, September 13, 2018

Alternate Monster Stat Block


When gaming, it’s important for a GM to have information organized in a way that makes sense to him or her and is easily parsed. The standard GURPS Dungeon Fantasy monster stat block is enormously better than the in-line stat blocks presented for animals in GURPS Basic Set, but I still find it a cluttered mess when a monster has a lot of traits. That’s why I’ve developed my own stat block that I use for monsters.

In creating my stat block, I tried to pull from sources that worked well for me in the past, organize information by kind, and maintain some degree of information density. While I don’t really talk much about my d20 days, I don’t loath the system, and I do think it got a lot right. One thing that Wizards of the Coast did well in the end of the 3.5 edition days was rearrange the monster stat blocks by statistic usage. They broke up traits and abilities and such by when the monster is first encountered, its defenses, its offenses, and the rest. This is where I started.


The Template


“So just how did you arrange my monster stat block and why?” you ask? Well, in broad strokes, I begin with a description of the monster in plain speech. This covers the monster’s appearance, occurrence, behavior, etc. If I were looking to publish this material, I’d make it flavorful like you see in the likes of Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 and its ilk. More important to my needs, though, is any information I can put there about how the monster behaves. Then I follow up with the following sections:

First Encounter

So what sort of information do we need in GURPS when a monster is first encountered? Well, we need to know when that encounter starts, of course! Part of that is determined by the monster, namely its senses. What else is important? Basic Speed sets turn order and plays a roll in initiative and determining Surprise, so definitely that. Also, the monster’s Size Modifier affects the PCs’ ability to spot it, so that belongs here, too.

Harkening back to my D&D days, I am very use to seeing an arrangement of [Size] [Type] for helping classify monsters. More than that, it’s far easier to sort through monsters by type if the type is listed at the top of the entry. For these two reasons, I placed Monster Class in First Encounter directly after SM.

After SM, Class, Basic Speed, and all senses are enumerated, it’s worth listing any qualities pertaining to first encounter that may be of use. These have been generally rare in practice and almost always pertain to senses. This is where special senses get described in full. In fact, the description should be thorough enough that someone reasonably familiar with GURPS shouldn’t have to reference any books to understand how the Quality works. That doesn’t mean copying entire trait entries from Basic Set, but it does mean writing out special or obscure rules in the context of the quality. The idea is that the monster entry is everything the GM needs to run the monster.

Lastly, traits and features related to the initial encounter also belong here. These generally include anything that affects initiative order (like Enhanced Time Sense) or senses (like Dark Vision, Discriminatory Smell, Night Vision, Subsonic Hearing, or the traits developed here). What does not belong here are traits that simply add a bonus to anything already listed here. We are reducing clutter, not just moving it around. This means Acute Senses are never listed, and new sense traits like Pararadar or Vibration Sense are added to the list of senses with their relevant scores instead of being listed here. If they require further explanation, that might justify their presence, but it’s better to list it out in full as a Quality.


Defense

How do I generally expect players to interact with a monster? Usually by trying to kill it and take its stuff. Yeah, sure, once in a while, players talk to monsters, but mostly they just kill them. And that means I need to know how the monster tries to avoid being killed. This section of the stat block is all about just that – anything pertaining to defenses.

For starters, all of the monster’s HP, FP, DR, and active defenses are listed out. If a monster specifically never uses or lacks one of these, it is still listed with a dash to indicate that it is not an option ever. That can be useful information.

Next up are a Qualities, Resistances, Immunities, and Weaknesses. The first is just as it was in First Encounter, but applied to defensive capabilities. This is the section where I call out things I do not want to forget during play, like all of the Injury Tolerances a monster might have. Then I list out Resistances with any bonuses or levels expressed parenthetically – e.g., Magic (2) or Disease (+3). I usually drop Pain (+3) in here in place of listing High Pain Threshold later on. Immunities work the same, except there are no parentheticals necessary. Lastly, I list anything that might be a weakness for the monster. This includes the obvious stuff like Vulnerability and Weakness, but also behavioral stuff like Bad Temper, Curious, etc. These can cause a monster to do defensively bad things or restrict their ability to fight. Basically, anything players might be able to exploit to the detriment of the monster get listed.

After all of this is written up, listed out, and enumerated, I drop any traits not already fully described in a list under Traits or Features. This has turned out to be the longest list of traits in the template pretty consistently.

Offense

A monster isn’t much of a monster if it had no offensive capabilities, right? So next, I list out all of those, beginning with the monster’s mobility. Each movement mode gets listed, with its speed, and if applicable, acceleration in standard GURPS notation. I don’t bother with implied modes like Swimming or Climbing unless they are enhanced or primary modes of movement. Thus, a human would only have Ground Move listed, not his implied Water Move or Climbing Move, unless he specifically bought those higher than normal.

Next, I list out all of the monster’s attacks, with any skill scores, resistance rolls, etc. parenthetically after the attack name, just as it is done in DF monster blocks. Then comes the attack description. This should include all of damage, reach/range, accuracy, RoF, shots, and recoil, as applicable, plus all special rules governing the attack in sufficient detail that a typical GURPSer doesn’t need to look anything up elsewhere. This is just like Qualities – the monster block should be all the GM needs to look at to run the monster.

And speaking of Qualities, these follow Attacks and are just as thorough in their description as anywhere else in the block. They include things like auras, acid blood, venoms and poisons, movement abilities, some non-damaging spells, etc. I will also put traits I don’t want to miss or that might require extra information for ease of use – like Super Jump and jumping distance – here.

As always, I round out the section with a list of Traits and Features that have not been fully described elsewhere. These should all be movement- or attack-related, like Ambidexterity, Extra Attack, Flight with relevant modifiers, etc. I don’t generally list Striking ST here because its sole effect is to increase damage, which is already listed in the monster’s attacks. I also don’t list Lifting ST unless the monster regularly grapples – encumbrance levels, if relevant, are listed later.

Statistics

This final section of the stat block is a catchall for whatever hasn’t been mentioned already and might be relevant. It begins by listing out the monster’s ST, DX, HT, IQ, Per, and Will; and then goes on to include a list of any Traits not already called out or described. This is usually a pretty short list and might include traits that impact social interactions like Appearance. It will also be where morphological traits, like Horizontal, show up. Note that talents are never listed, since they mostly just give a bonus to skills (listed next), and if they have a special bonus, that would get listed under another section or generally be irrelevant.

Next up is a list of common skills the monster might have, with all modifiers from traits and abilities already applied. This list should be limited to skills that might get used in an encounter. Sorry Cooking skill.

Finally, the section rounds out with notes. These should include anything and everything not already mentioned about the monster, including common treasure, willingness to negotiate, encumbrance levels for potential mounts, meat quantities for potential food, etc. Be thorough here!

And that’s about it. That’s the block I use.

But What Does It Look Like?

Or . . . Shut up and show me the block already!

Monster Name

Description

First Encounter

SM 0 Class

Basic Speed 0.00

Vision 0
Hearing 0
Smell 0

Quality 0

Traits: 0
Features: 0

Defense

HP 0
FP 0
DR 0
Dodge 0
Parry 0
Block 0

Quality: 0
Resistances: 0
Immunities: 0
Weaknesses: 0

Traits: 0
Features: 0

Offense

Ground Move 0

Attack (00) 0
Quality 0

Traits: 0
Features: 0

Statistics

ST 0
DX 0
HT 0
IQ 0
Per 0
Will 0

Traits: 0
Skills: 0
Features: 0

Notes

4 comments :

  1. I like that, especially the first encounter part. Having all the relevant senses and other details that you need to know about how the encounter should start is very helpful.

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    1. Thanks! That's kind of why I set it up that way. Too often, I would miss something not on the standard DF bestiary template. I'm also considering appending this a little to include Morale in First Encounter, Control Point Thresholds for Fantastic Dungeon Grappling (from Hall of Justice [https://gamingballistic.com/product/hall-of-judgment-print-pdf-bundle/]) and maybe even a standardized Chase score (thanks, Charles!) if I find Chase rules from Action! 2 - Exploits sees a lot of use in play.

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  2. I like this a lot. It feels strange to me to not list basic attributes first but really those aren't the things you NEED first! If love to see one of your stat blocks in action (not just the template)

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    Replies
    1. Ahh, I see the pony stat block but would love to see an actual monster!

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